29 August 2005

A President I'd be proud to listen to

If you wander on over to the 2008 Presidential Race blog, you'll note that down at number 31 on the list of potential GOP candidates is Mississippi Governor, and former national GOP chairman, Haley Barbour. I've always thought Barbour was at best a political hack, and in my gut I still feel that way.

But I've had the hurricane coverage on all afternoon, since I got home, and through the noise of chores and laundry and so forth has periodically penetrated the deep Southern drawl of Haley Barbour. I have to stop what I'm doing and listen whenever he comes on. This is a voice I want in the White House. I could listen to him for days. No matter how stupid his policies or arrogant his smirk, Mr. Barbour, unlike Mr. Bush, could still command my attention.

On the other hand, Tony Vasilis, who is on MSNBC from time to time talking about the internet coverage of the storm, is without a doubt the most flagrantly homosexual sounding newscaster I've ever heard. I honestly don't know any gay men who sound stereotypically gay at all, but this Vasilis guy... he's no Haley Barbour.

God must really dislike these people

Now this is just sad. It seems a crazy man and his family have formed a church out in sunny Kansas, and, Kansas being flat and dull, they’ve decided to travel to Tennessee to harass mourners at the funerals of two Tennessee soldiers killed in Iraq. America, it seems, tolerates homosexuality. And because of this, God is taking vengeance on our soldiers in Iraq. Never mind that this seems a little arbitrary and capricious for God, that’s what’s really happening over there, so says this fellow Fred Phelps.

Needless to say this goes right back to my “Christianity needs better salesmen” theory from earlier. With the likes of Phelps and his followers (apparently his “parishioners” are mostly his family) traveling around giving Christians a bad name, it’s a wonder there are any of us left. Go home, Fred, and stay there.

The worst thing about it is these bastards actually applied for and received protest permits. I’d like to know exactly who in Smyrna and Ashland City authorized ANYONE at all to hold a protest at a funeral. I can’t possibly think of a valid reason to do that, free speech be damned. There are times when you hold your tongue, and as the authorizing official if you can’t trust these bastards to hold their tongues you do it for them by not letting the permit.

28 August 2005

The Big One

Say a prayer for New Orleans and all the folks along the Gulf Coast there.

"I'm expecting to come back to a slab," said Robert Friday, who didn't bother boarding up his home in suburban Slidell, La., before driving north to Mississippi. "We may not be coming back to anything, but at least we'll be coming back."

Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard said some who have ridden out previous storms in the New Orleans area may not be so lucky this time.
``I'm expecting that some people who are die-hards will die hard,'' he said.

"I was going to the Superdome and then I saw the two-mile line," the 42-year-old musician said. "I figure if I'm going to die, I'm going to die with cold beer and my best buds."

Fred Wilson, a tourist from San Francisco, who was drinking a rum and fruit juice hurricane cocktail, said: "The only dangerous hurricanes so far are the ones we've been drinking. We can't get out, so we might as well have fun."

"We are facing a storm that most of us have long feared," Nagin said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime event."

This Nagin is New Orleans mayor C. Ray Nagin, who in a press conference this morning gave the order evacuating the city. In halting speech he read out the evacuation order--then looked up and said, "I wish I had better news." Later in an interview wih MSNBC, Nagin noted that he had packed his family off to Dallas, and had a cot set up in his office in city hall and a room in a hotel, and he'd go to whichever seemed safer. This blog tends to point out a lot of the selfish, unethical, and stupid things politicians do, so this is a good time to remember that at least occasionally they face difficult choices.

As Nagin said, God bless New Orleans.

24 August 2005

All the background you'll ever want on the Solomon Amendment

Not too long ago I wrote about the Solomon Amendment case that is going to come before the Supreme Court next term. It will be argued on November 29.

I’m keenly interested in this topic. I really do hope to go to law school next year, and I really expect to be able to do it only with the military’s blessing; if I am mustered out later this year I don’t think I’ll be able to scrape the money together for law school even with a full scholarship, which is not a sure thing. So, since I’m looking at going to law school as a member of the military, I’m keen on seeing how this legal battle unfolds. And since I intend to visit a couple of top law schools, I’m certainly going to be asking what involvement their students and/or professors have with the litigation.

This is a long one. I’m going to continue to cover this issue as there are new developments throughout the year; I don’t know if all briefs have been filed yet in the case but if I can I intend to read and report on them, and I’ll also report on the media reaction the day of the argument, on the argument itself once I get the transcript, and then on the decision once that’s made available. I think it’s important, and if you agree, there’s more after the jump.

From my point of view, it’s much more significant how a campus treats the military than how a campus treats any LGBT students who may be around. All law schools have strict and enforced anti-discrimination policies, and frankly law schools are probably the most progressive institutions in the country when it comes to sexual orientation rights. I cannot possibly empathize with the gay student who claims that his law school’s permitting the military to recruit on campus is an act of discrimination. But how should I feel, as a member of the military, attending a school (like Duke) where one or more professors and/or students are actively and directly involved in a case that defames the military because of its idiot policy on discrimination? For which of us is the campus environment likely to be worse?

In any event, I found some additional information on the case today while I was bored at work (total work done: 9 minutes. So far. I could so be writing a novel right now.) This could weigh heavily on how the matter is decided, and how important said decision really is.

First thing I discovered, starting from this MSNBC article by Tom Curry, is that some of the nation’s largest and most prestigious private law schools do, in fact, get quite a bit of cash from the federal government.

At first, this seems to make a sham out of their entire argument. How can you call yourself a private school when, as with Cornell University, you receive 20% of your budget—over $400 million—from the federal government? Clemson University receives little more than 25% of its budget from the state of South Carolina, but has the guts to call itself a state institution. Cornell starts this entire argument off sitting in the hypocrite’s seat. Yale, Duke, Harvard, and others all included.

But there’s always more to the story. In most (though not all) cases, the Law Schools themselves which are at the heart of this matter do not receive federal funding. The Solomon Amendment requires the government to cut off all federal funding to a university if any of its “subelements” refuses to endorse military recruiting. Thus the $400 mil Cornell is getting is for the most part going to science and engineering research, not to the University’s general budget and certainly not to the law program.

This helps to explain why, when the amendment was first proposed in 1994 by New York Congressman Gerald Solomon, the Department of Defense was opposed to its adoption. The DOD, rather than the National Science Foundation or any other element of the government, is the largest provider of public funds to universities. DARPA, the Defenese Advanced Research Projects Agency, distributes billions of dollars to colleges and universities across the country every year, funding research on everything from breathable fabrics to remote-controlled Humvees. The DOD was understandably concerned that some of their biggest DARPA recipients, including Stanford, Yale, and UCLA, might run afoul of the Solomon Amendment; in the end, the cost to the DOD in lost research would be far more significant than any loss in recruiting they might have been suffering.

Look at it this way: all costs aside, if you had to choose between getting a lawyer and getting a remote-controlled tank, which would you choose?

There’s also the matter of Public Law 92-436. This was passed way back in 1972 and, though rarely invoked, is still public law. It reads in part (S.606), “(a) No part of the funds appropriated pursuant to this or any other Act for the Department of Defense or any of the Armed Forces may be used at any institution of higher learning if the Secretary of Defense or his designee determines that recruiting personnel of any of the Armed Forces of the United States are being barred by the policy of such institution from the premises of the institution…”

So the DOD already had a way of punishing universities that refused to let it recruit on campus. Most universities didn’t refuse to recruit on campus; what’s more, Cornell Law’s insistence on not allowing recruiters at its events didn’t matter as long as Cornell University allowed recruiters on campus elsewhere, which it did and does, as do nearly all other major universities.

Further on, P.L. 92-436 reads, “(b) The prohibition made by subsection (a) of this section as it applies to research and development funds shall not apply if the Secretary of Defense or his designee determines that the expenditure is a continuation or a renewal of a previous program with such institution which is likely to make a significant contribution to the defense effort.”

Again, the previous law already in place allowed that DARPA and other research agencies could still fund research at a blacklisted institution if the research was already ongoing. Solomon forbids this.

I never met the late Rep. Solomon and wouldn’t wish to disparage him, but it seems to me that he wrote his amendment without due consideration of its end result. Of course, it was also passed by a majority of both house of Congress, men and women who evidently didn’t consider the end result, either. P.J. O’Rourke once wrote that the law of unintended consequences is the one piece of legislation Congress always manages to pass. Too true.

Solomon does go some steps further than P.L. 92-436. To begin, it removes the idea of discretion from the decision to withhold funds. Instead it mandates the withholding of funds. Further, it mandates the withholding of all funds, not just DOD funds, meaning that even NSF and other agencies interested in giving money to fund research projects that might use facilities only available at certain universities are unable to fund said research. It is not hard to see that the Amendment, if enforced, could have a crippling effect on a wide variety of important research. The United States is already slipping in scientific research against the rest of the world; the last thing we need is to cripple our scientists further just to support the moral desires of politicians. (Yes, that statement had a double meaning.)

Of course, politicians could not leave bad enough alone with the Solomon Amendment. As originally passed in 1994, Solomon only restricted DOD funding from noncompliant schools. It wasn’t until 1997 that Congress expanded the amendment to ban funding from nearly every government agency (except USDA). DOD language inserted into a 1999 amendment loosened the 1997 strictures, withholding all federal funding from an offending subelement (i.e. law school) but only DOD funding from the parent institution. After 1999, the DOD rewrote its own regulations to allow some exceptions. The key exception allowed that a school would be considered in compliance—according to the DOD—if it provided military recruiters a “degree of access equal to that provided to other recruiters.”

Thus after 1999, only if a school could be shown to be prohibiting or preventing the military from gaining access to students somewhere on campus, would that school be found in violation of Solomon. The DOD did find a handful of institutions in violation; all immediately corrected the violation. As an example of how this worked, Harvard Law allowed the military to recruit only at the offices of its Veterans Association, and did not permit its own career counselors to arrange interviews with military recruiters. The DOD thought this was perfectly acceptable. Other schools would refer students to military recruiters elsewhere on campus but would not allow recruiters to interview or place literature in the Law School campus. I would argue that this is actually quite restrictive, but in fact the DOD enthusiastically supported these measures.

Of course, the 1990s ended. And the new millennium ushered in a new administration and new power in the DOD. After the attacks of September 11th, the new DOD leadership decided that the measures that it had previously allowed were, in fact, in violation of Solomon. It is hard to argue against this: the DOD’s existing policy stated that to be in compliance a school must show that “the degree of access by military recruiters is at least equal in quality and scope to that afforded to other employers.”

Reading the regulation literally, it is had to see how a law school career placement division’s refusal to schedule interviews with recruiters or to allow military recruitment literature alongside other employment literature could possibly be considered in compliance.

Then the DOD went a step further; see the above about politicians not leaving bad enough alone. The DOD announced that if any subelement of a school (almost always a law school) failed to comply with Solomon, it would request that Congress withhold all federal funding from the parent institution as well as the subelement. This counterdicted the DOD’s 1999 policy. DOD continued to narrow its definition of compliance over the next year—although no further than had been recommended by Congress in 1997.

As a member and supporter of the military, if not of the present administration, I find DOD’s argument here very persuasive. In a letter to the University of Southern California Law School, DOD said that anything less than equal treatment for military recruiters “sends the message that employment in the Armed Forces is less honorable or desirable than employment with other organizations.”

And that right there, that is the heart of the problem with this whole Solomon Amendent case. By raising the issue in the first place, prominent people at prominent law schools have made service in the military seem like a negative thing. If you won’t even allow the military on your campus, you’re sending a message that military service is not something your students should consider.

I just took the LSAT. It has a lot of questions on it where you must choose the stronger of two arguments, or say why an argument is strong, or what might make an argument stronger. Since I kicked that test’s ass, I feel I have a bit of authority in discussing which argument is stronger (you may disagree; I don’t care).

Argument 1. The military discriminates against gays. That said, there are some gay people in the military; furthermore, not all straight people in the military [myself included] agree with the military’s policy on discrimination. The law school has a policy that explicitly prevents discrimination against gays. Allowing a recruiter onto campus, where he/she might try to recruit students to serve in the military regardless of their attitude towards the military’s policy, totally invalidates the school’s anti-discrimination policy and is discriminatory against gays. An average person, straight or gay, would view the school as a discriminatory place.

Argument 2. The law school allows employment recruiters on campus. It allows literature to be distributed, offers help setting up employment interviews, and conducts job fairs. However, it does not allow military literature to be distributed, does not set up interviews with military recruiters, and will not allow military recruiters to attend job fairs. An average person, military or civilian, would view the school as being anti-military.

I choose argument 2. What do you know, I got it right, since I didn’t miss any of the questions on that section.

It takes a real stretch of logic to get from allowing military recruiters to talk to your students on your campus to being discriminatory against gays. It’s not much of a stretch at all to see that a school that won’t allow the military on its campus is anti-military. And given that, if a school wants to be anti-military, then by all rights the military ought to cut off funding.

Now, the law schools frame their argument this way. This is taken from a letter written by Stanford Law Dean Kathleen Sullivan earlier this year and posted on Stanford’s email distribution list.

The government may tell the University how to spend its federal dollars, but it may not use the leverage of federal funding to tell the University how to spend its private dollars. For example, if a public broadcaster accepts some public funding and otherwise relies on private donations, the government may not restrict the speech it engages in with private dollars. Similarly, if the University accepts federal funding at the Medical or Engineering schools, the government may not restrict the expressive association of the Law School, which is physically and financially separate from those other units and which does not receive federal funding.

I think Dean Sullivan is on to something, but she’s not going to finish her thought. I’ll do it for her. Since the University is not inherently anti-military, but the law school is, and since the University and Law School are physically and financially separate, then the University should drop its affiliation with the law school, and vice versa. It’s all about freedom of association, baby. Perhaps Stanford U doesn’t want to associate with a crowd of anti-military types. No problem. Cut the cord.

This seems like a fair and equitable solution to me, but then, it doesn’t answer the fundamental question of whether Solomon is Constitutional or not, and no truly anti-military group could resist the chance to defeat the military in open battle, even if just in a courtroom. The Third Circuit, last November, decided that the litigants in this case stood a better than even chance of winning their argument against the government and getting Solomon overturned; they ruled against the government, but stayed their decision until the Supreme Court could have a crack at the case.

Scanning the Third Circuit’s decision (it’s 102 pages long so, no, I haven’t read the whole thing), it seems that the law schools and their supporters may have the stronger case. Quoting Dean Sullivan again,

The government may offer financial inducement to the University to comply with federal policies inconsistent with its own, but it may not offer inducements "so coercive as to pass the point at which 'pressure turns into compulsion.'" For example, withdrawing merely 5% of federal highway funds from states that refuse to raise their drinking ages to 21 was held not to deprive the states of autonomy over liquor regulation. By contrast, threatening to withdraw all $800 million of federal funding from a University based on its law school's policy on military recruiters is so grossly disproportionate that it must be regarded as coercing the University to surrender its right of expressive association.

This is sensible and argues along the lines of established first amendment case law. But is a private university, no matter how much money it gets from the feds, the same thing as a sovereign state?

Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seems to me that Dean Sullivan and the litigants in this case are arguing from a belief that not only do private universities have a right to free association, they also have a right to federal funding. This is a right I don’t believe exists.

The federal government gives each state a significant share of its budget. It does this because the federal government takes in more money—or at any rate budgets more money—than it can legally spend. The federal government cannot order Louisiana to keep U.S. 90 paved to a reasonable level (and Louisiana doesn’t, if you’ve ever had the misfortune to drive on that road). However, the federal government can encourage Louisiana to pave its roads, and gives the state money every year to do so. In Louisiana’s case, this money used to end up in Edwin Edwards’ penny loafers, but that’s beside the point.

Back in the mid 1990s, though, the feds decided that the drinking age should be 21. But the feds can’t make the drinking age 21; it’s a state power. So the feds decided that they would coerce the states into raising their drinking ages by withholding a small percentage of the funding they disburse to the states every year unless the state raised the drinking age. Louisiana was the last to comply, but it did so, after a lawsuit was settled; Louisiana had said the feds couldn’t cut the money supply like that, but the courts found that in fact the 5% figure was not arbitrary or bound to cause an undue burden on the state.

So Dean Sullivan et al are arguing that, like Louisiana, they have a right to federal money, and Solomon’s provision to deny them that money is arbitrary and causes undue burden because it denies them all of that money instead of a small amount. But does a private entity have any right to federal funding at all? The federal government is in contract with the states; the U.S. can no more cut off all funding to Louisiana than it can declare war on Iowa (unless Iowa secedes). The states are sovereigns and are in sovereign contract with the federal government. Stanford has no such contract, and is not a sovereign. It is a private corporation, inherent with the rights of an individual, but no individual has a right to receive government money. Only by meeting the government’s requirements can individuals receive money; and if the government chooses to require you to allow military recruiters on your campus, the only thing you can do about it is stop looking for handouts.

Ah, say the private corporations/universities, but our campus is private property. The government should have to pay to engage in recruiting on our campus. That’s fair enough. Do other employers have to pay to recruit? Hmm… And what do you call the existing hundreds of millions of federal dollars working their way toward your parent institution every year? Does that not qualify as payment? If the government must pay to recruit, then if they don’t recruit, why should they pay?

Ah, it is confusing, indeed. The First Amendment does say that the government cannot coerce you into associating with people with whom you don’t wish to associate. But does denying public dollars to a private institution constitute coercion? Are you a private institution if you cannot survive without public funding? And doesn’t public funding usually come with strings attached? At what point do strings start becoming coercion, and does any of this matter in the context of private institutions? And what happens to Public Law 92-436 if Solomon is overturned?

Yep, it will be very interesting to see how all this comes out. Of course, if DOD would just throw out Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, then this would all be moot. I guess it’s no use wishing for unicorns, though.

No Higher Calling than Public Service

Today brought an interesting article in the Fort Myers News-Press about a the state insurance scam, er, I mean, task force, set up by the state legislature during this year’s session.

It’s called the Task Force on Long-Term Solutions for Florida’s Hurricane Insurance Market, but in reality the commission is constituted more like the Task Force on Long-Term Solutions for Florida’s Hurricane Insurers’ Weak Bottom Lines.

The 12-member task force includes five representatives of insurance companies, a politician who is also an insurance agent, the president of the Florida Homebuilders Association (which wants weaker construction standards), and, in the place reserved for “insurance consumers,” we find the head of a board created by a group of Florida insurance companies.

Given the makeup, what is the chance the board will give any consideration whatsoever to the problem of high insurance premiums? I’m guessing it’s about zero. Yep, this is your politicians, serving you the voters of Florida, and ensuring your voice is heard. Hey, guess how much money the insurance industry gave to politicians in 2004?

Redistricting Update

The backers of the Florida ballot measure to make legislative districts logical and not blatantly favoring one party or politician, as discussed yesterday, has decided to press ahead with the measure. Afraid there isn’t time to gather the requisite 611,000 signatures on a new measure, they’ve decided to let the state Supreme Court decide on whether measure length is a good enough reason to disqualify.

I’ll tell you right now I think that’s a mistake. They’d be better off to craft a new ballot measure and start gathering signatures simultaneously with the older measure. You can just see the self-satisfied little smirk on Jeb Bush’s face in that article: "There is this thing in Microsoft Word that's called ‘word count.’ " Yeah, he’s real broken up about the state division of elections’ failure to do their job, isn’t he? You can bet he’ll be pushing the state Supreme Court to “follow the letter of establish law” and deny the measure a spot on the ballot, like every other elected official in the state.

If you’d like to sign the petitions to fix our redistricting system—and, um, provided you’re a Florida voter—here’s a link to do so.

23 August 2005


Well, it’s time to follow a developing story again, at least for a while. I should probably update an older developing story, too, but I’ll do it when I bloody well feel like it, thank you very much.

It is intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer that the state of Florida’s method of drawing political boundaries is broken. The same could be said for, oh, about 40 other states as well, almost certainly including your own state, dear reader. (Don’t you hate it when columnists get all smarmy and address you as “dear reader?” What the hell is that all about anyway? I’m not Miss Manners. But I'll try to be better mannered after the jump.)

Here’s what happens. Every ten years, the legislature sits down with a bunch of census data and, these days, expensive computer programs, and commences to choose from among all the voters in the state those that each legislator would most like to have to face in elections for the next ten years. It doesn’t matter which party is in power; both parties do their best (some do better than others) to alleviate the common problem of competition during elections. In Florida during the 2004 elections, of 120 state representatives, 51 faced no opponents whatsoever; 8 faced only write-in opponents; 17 saw their election decided in the party primary; thus only 44 actually faced opponents who both had a chance of winning and who presented voters with an alternative.

Furthermore, of 20 state senators, 11 faced no opponent, and only 6 races featured members of the two major parties squaring off against one another.

Worse still, of the state’s 25 Congressmen, 4 faced no opponents (including, to no one’s surprise, Tom Feeney and Mario Diaz-Balart, who both drew their own districts in 2001), 5 faced only write-in or token opposition, and only 1 (that’s right, just one) faced an opponent who managed to gain more than 40% of the vote. That one, of course, was Krazy Kat Harris--her district is so Republican that only a clearly psychotic person who makes use of Homer Simpson's makeup shotgun could possibly do as poorly as... well, as Harris. No district in the state is designed to be competitive; on average, Republicans who faced "serious" opposition won their districts with 66% of the vote; the two Democrats who faced non-token opposition won with 65.9%.

Now, the jackanapes in Congress and the state leg of course claim that this is actually a GOOD thing, because it shows that the people in each district are happy with their Congressman or woman. This is a lie. No recent poll places national approval of Congress higher than 30%. What's more, few Congressmen can claim better than 50% name recognition in their own districts, so clearly the voters are not in love with their Congressmen. And in the current clime, it’s relatively rare to see a sitting member of either party face serious opposition to re-election in his or her primary; it does happen, absolutely, but only to a handful of office-holders. In short, folks who are in the minority party in any given Congressional or state house district face little to no chance of electing someone from their party. This is disenfranchisement.

So comes the idea, this year, of having an “independent” bipartisan commission draw up our legislative lines for future censuses. (I always think that word should be “censes.”)

Here is an exciting article about the effort from yesterday’s Times.

Let’s see, what does it say there… well, it seems the commission doing the line drawing would have six Republicans, six Democrats, and three members chosen by the state Supreme Court who must have no party affiliation or be members of third parties. That sounds reasonably fair.

Politicians immediately say, well, you can’t claim that a body chosen by politicians will be nonpolitical. Good point. And, by saying it, the politicians are admitting that redistricting is entirely a political process when they do it. So can it get any worse? Probably not.

Former supporters of independent redistricting, like current gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist and Congressman/beneficiary-of-partisan-redistricting Ander Crenshaw, no longer support the idea. Why? Because their party is now in power. Woo-hoo! Crist cravenly says, when questioned, “Can’t I change my mind?”

I don’t know, Charlie. You’ve been criticizing your opponent Tom Gallagher for changing his mind about abortion and other issues ever since you jumped into this race. So as far as I’m concerned, no, you can’t change your mind. You lost that right you cast the first stone at Gallagher for doing the same thing.

Meanwhile, our current governor Jeb Bush goes out to Miami to help Arnold Schwarzenegger raise money for his campaign to create an independent commission to redraw California’s districts—because an independent commission would likely give more seats in California to Republicans. But does Bush support the Florida plan?

No. Why not? Good question. We’re still waiting on a real answer.

Now today comes word that one of three separate ballot measures the group pushing independent redistricting (a branch of Common Cause) may not be legal in the first place. Why? Too many words.

Of course, the state division of elections, which is supposed to monitor for things like that, approved the ballot initiative’s wording months ago before the group could start collecting signatures (of which they have about 200,000, a third of what they need). Now, it’s too late; odds are the state Supreme Court will invalidate the ballot measure regardless of how many signatures they collect. The only way to fix the matter now is to resubmit the application with corrected wording (it’s only six words too long), get that approved by the state, and then go back and try to get the 200,000 people who already signed the thing to sign the revised petition. This is a massive expenditure of funds and, in the end, it’s more likely that the measure will simply be left off the ballot.

The measure that the six words will invalidate is a measure requiring that congressional and legislative districts be drawn so that they favor no one party or candidate. This is, of course, the most important of the three measures, as it would have come into effect with or without the bipartisan commission and would have permitted citizens to sue the state legislature if they drew districts blatantly favoring one candidate or party. This is, of course, also the most unpalatable of the three measures, as far as the state, the legislature, and the individual politicians, are concerned.

Now, it’s true that the state Supreme Court has never yet invalidated a ballot measure because of wordiness. That said, this is a very, very unpopular ballot measure among sitting officeholders. Almost every politician in the state is going to come out against it, and you can bet that the GOP guys will be criticizing those awful “activist judges” on the state Supreme Court if they don’t invalidate the measure, precedent be damned.

You know how when you see bug flipped over on its back, struggling to right itself, before you squish it you have to sort of watch for a minute? That’s what’s happening right now; the politicians are struggling to stop this thing, and before we squish them, we sort of want to watch them struggle.

22 August 2005

No Child Left Behind?

So, Connecticut has filed suit against the federal government over the No Child Left Behind Act. I'm surprised it took this long.

Listening to the report on this on NPR today on the way home, I found myself thinking once again what exactly made the party of smaller less centralized government decide to nationalize and socialise education.

Then I started writing something about it, and it turned into something really long and time-consuming and I was only halfway done with it. Not sure whether to continue, I decided that, at any rate, it's more a piece for the other blog, if I decide to finish it (I have more pressing things, believe it or not). So instead I leave just this little tantalizing post to get you to think about it and discuss the matter. Its okay to leave comments.

1. Whence came the myth that socialism brings everyone up to the same level? In most cases we've seen where socialism was applied on a grand scale, it brought everyone down to the same level. NCLB does essentially the same; Connecticut is suing because, the state claims, their own testing was more rigourous and produced better results than the mandated (and unfunded, which is the other reason they're suing) testing associated with NCLB. This has been my concern from the start: when you teach to the test, if the test is not set to a very high standard, you inevitably fail the exceptionally bright student. Where is the benefit here?

2. Whence came the myth that the states have done a great job with education already and NCLB is just mucking things up? Who seriously believes the majority of states were getting the job done before? A few were, sure, but not most. Not a bloody one south of the Mason-Dixon, either.

3. Given that, is there a better way? Does NCLB do a good job of bringing the underachievers up? Is mandatory standardized testing the only or best way of doing so? And is there a way to better serve those students who could pass most standardized tests hungover and half asleep (yours truly included)? Is the country well served by treating all students exactly the same, or should we instead work on two tracks: bring all students up to at least a minimum level a la NCLB, and present a second educational path for students who are genuinely exceptional. Is it okay in modern society to admit that some students are smarter than others?

On bloggers

Stole this from Wonkette.

• Joel Achenbach, natural born blogger: "As an artist, my normal impulse is to write things that people don't care about and, ideally, can't even understand." Also, the blog is a harsh mistress: "I am constantly having to post something new just to make the blog interested in me again." [WP]

Yep. That's about right.

15 August 2005


Ah, forget it. Can't resist. After reading about everybody else’s spots, I had to go to Find Your Spot.com and find my spot. I’m not entirely sure I buy into this. My list has too few cities on the coast, and it includes Tulsa which is miles from any coast at all. I’ve noticed that everybody’s list includes Tulsa. I’m wondering if maybe the Tulsa chamber of commerce sponsors Find Your Spot.com to increase their visibility. Hmm…

1. Chattanooga – Okay, maybe.
2. Hickory – I think this is too small, but I might be wrong.
3. Clarksville, Tenn – Something about last trains… I’m not too sure. It’s not even in the mountains.
4. Tulsa – Yeah, sure. Nice try, Tulsa Chamber. Though southwestern Oklahoma is very nice.
5. Greenville – Ah, Greenville. Nice to know it ranks high. I don’t want to be the only democrat in whatever town I’m living in, though.
6. Gulfport-Biloxi – Finally, a place on the coast. Too many casinos, not enough real work being done. Maybe I could handle Pass Christian or Bay St. Louis. I just think Mississippi is too casino-happy for my tastes.
7. Johnson City-Bristol-Kingsport – My folks are smitten with this area, maybe it’s cool.
8. Tallahassee – Probably one of the few cities in FL I could tolerate. I could live down in St. Marks.
9. Olympia – Tyler once told me this was a nice place. I should check it out.
10. Knoxville – Might go to law school here.
11. Hampton, Va – probably my top choice of these cities, but there’s a lot of sprawl.
12. Bellingham – eh.
13. Tacoma – eh.
14. Jacksonville – done it. Probably don’t need to do it again. But it would be near the top of Florida places.
15. Norfolk – See above comments viz Hampton.
16. Gainesville – Not a bloody chance in hell.
17. Jackson – Are you kidding?
18. Asheville – Now we’re talking. Asheville I could handle.
19. Lynchburg – Again, another place I could definitely see myself living, especially on the north bank of the James at the top of the hill there.
20. Athens – I don’t know, I’ve never really been impressed by Athens.
21. Hattiesburg – I don’t think I could take a place named “Hattiesburg” seriously.
22. Tuscaloosa – I’d rather do Athens.
23. Palm Springs – Okay guys, put down the crack pipe. Good.
24. Kent, Wash – I’m sorry, this place just SOUNDS like a giant suburb. Forget it.

So that’s the list.
I was thinking of a list about like this:
1. Tampa
2. Valdosta
3. Asheville
4. Clemson
5. Knoxville
6. Richmond
7. Hampton Roads (Norfolk/Hampton inclusive)
8. Maryland’s Eastern Shore/Sussex County, Delaware
9. Brunswick, Ga
10. Corpus Christi
11. Austin
12. Georgetown, S.C.
13. Shenandoah Valley
14. Birmingham
15. Lynchburg
16. Cumberland, Md.
17. Summers in someplace like Alpena or Cheboygan in northern Michigan, winters in maybe Mobile, or Tampa.

I note Find Your Spot doesn’t list Georgetown, or Valdosta, or Cumberland. Georgetown I can understand, but Valdosta’s an up and coming new metro city, and the place has Roswell Georgia, which is just a glorified suburb of Atlanta. And Cumberland is a cool place up there in the mountains. Ah, well.

14 August 2005

Sales and Marketing

Recently I said something about Christianity needing a better marketing campaign. Islam could probably use one, too. I'd like to suggest that this photo goes a long way towards making Shiite Islam about as friendly as Santa Claus.

In fact, the poster of the late Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Muhammad-Sadiq al-Sadr looks about as much like a Muslim Santa Claus as I think would be possible (I'm sure the Grand Ayatollah is spinning in his grave). His right-hand man (and possible successor) Sheik Abdul Hadi al-Daraji, who is speaking, looks like he could sell auto insurance to children. This is marketing, people! This is great!

Tentative hallelujah

Recently I celebrated the Supreme Court's decision in Granholm v. Heald, which paved the way for wineries to ship wines across state borders, heretofore illegal in most states, Florida among them.

Then, last week, a federal judge here in the Tampa area, James Whittemore (if his name sounds familiar, it's because you watched too much Teri Schiavo coverage) ruled Florida's ban on wine shipping unconstitutional in accordance with the ruling in Granholm.

That's as much as I know for sure. I heard about it last week, and, as you can read in this article from California, all the ruling did was eliminate an old law. As some Florida papers noted, this really doesn't mean the doors have been thrown open for legal wine shipping into the state. It means the state can no longer enforce its laws against doing so. But mail carriers may not care to risk handling wine shipments until the legislature has a chance to act on wine shipping generally, sometime next spring.

This is still good news. But then today I saw this little blurb on the local 24-hour news channel, Bay News 9. Bay News 9 is good for weather and has good coverage of local issues, but I'm not sure they do a lot of research into stories that come from beyond the Bay area.

In any event, BN9 is reporting that "State legislators made the change last week and now wine companies are gearing up for added sales." What change? How did legislators do anything when they're not in session? I don't know. My understanding has been that state Sen. Paula Dockery is planning to introduce legislation next session codifying the way wine can be shipped in the state. But the next session starts in March. What law, exactly, did legislators pass? Bay News 9 isn't telling.

They do say that, "Initially banned by the state of Florida because of the potential of underage purchasers, it's an effort by winery's to sell wine via the Internet then send it through the mail. A concern no more after the law was overturned." (This is a direct copy from the TelePrompTer, which means the guy writing the TelePrompTer text is an apostrophe abuser. Since he's probably also the station's news manager, that's sort of distressing.) They also note that, "With the House of Representatives passing the new law, it makes it reciprocal to where a state that ships wine to us, now we can ship to them."

Now, again, we have the question about what the House actually did, since most House members are at home in their districts, taking bribes under the table and pretending to go to their day jobs. But... well, if Bay News 9 is right, then I can't wait to start ordering wine over the internet. Probably tomorrow. 50 Wines from 50 States, I plan to call it. Yeehaw.

12 August 2005

The Annual Country Rankings! Part VIII

Finally, we have the First World. Hooray for the First World!
Any reasonable government, and any reasonable person, in the First World should have as a goal the enlargement of the First World, to eventually include the Whole World. This may, and almost assuredly is, a pipe dream. But a world full of First World countries would be a much less violent place, and we can hardly argue against that.

The first world is capped, as it has been every year, by Luxembourg. Think of Luxembourg, a country of less than 500,000 people, as a particularly well-to-do American city. Say, Charlotte, North Carolina, or Stanford, California. This is basically the role Luxembourg fills in Europe. The GDP per capita there is nearly $60,000, and as Luxembourg has a strikingly even distribution of income, this translates to an average family income in the country on the order of 50 grand a year. That is significantly higher than any other country in the world.
Norway is next on the list, making this the first year that the United States has not been second. They leapt ahead of us on the strength of their life expectancy and infant mortality stats; in both of those areas the United States is among the lowest in the first world. The U.S. does hang in at number three and will probably remain there for some time as nobody is catching up too fast. In fourth is San Marino, a tiny enclave of Italy that is far richer than any part of that country.
The next ten or so countries on the list are unsurprising: Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Australia, Canada (a brand new trillion-dollar economy this year), Ireland (the fastest growing first world country for almost ten years running), Austria, Japan, Belgium, the Netherlands.
Down in 16th place is the United Kingdom. The UK is one of the “big four” trillion-dollar economies of Europe, the others being France, Germany, and Italy. (Spain likely will hit that mark in the next few years.) In 1998, the UK was the lowest ranked of the big four. Since that time, privatization, entrepreneurship, and a housing boom have allowed the UK to jump ahead of the others. The French and Germans, who dislike the EU Constitution because they don’t think it adequately provides for massive social welfare like their governments do, have not yet realized that the British have caught up with and passed them by in the last few years by partially dismantling that massive social welfare system. The new Eastern Bloc countries in the EU are following the British model, rather than the French, since they’ve seen firsthand the effects of socialism and want no part of it. This is an interesting backstory playing out in the current European affair.
After the UK, we have Finland, Sweden, Andorra, and then finally France, Germany and Italy. Below these are Singapore and Monaco.
The rest of the list are what I would call second-tier First World countries. They’re still very nice places, democratic and friendly with rights and freedoms all over the place and plenty of money to keep the kids fed and clothed and take everyone out to a movie now and then. They are distinguished from the other first world countries by their lower inmigration rates and smaller per capita GDPs, though a handful of them also have substandard literacy or infant mortality rates and one of them has a substandard life expectancy.
Topping this list is Liechtenstein, which has not had a good decade so far. Unable to follow the lead of its fellow micro-states and sign an EU trade agreement (Liechtenstein’s preferential status with Switzerland would be nullified), the Liechtenstein economy has not grown at all. It’s still a comfortable place, but where San Marino has rocketed up right next to the U.S., Liechtenstein stays mired on the lower rungs of the ladder.
Next we have Spain, which is getting better but still lags behind its northern neighbors, and New Zealand, which is sort of like Australia’s Canada. Except with more sheep. New Zealand used to be the very last country in the First World, though, and they have moved up steadily.
Greece follows—we always knew they were near the bottom—with Slovenia (formerly a part of Yugoslavia) right behind. Slovenia is the latest country to become a creditor nation at the Paris Club, so they’ve come quite a long way since breaking from Yugoslavia in the early 90’s. Next is the Mediterranean island country of Malta, a new EU member, followed by “Old Europe” laggard Portugal.
Back in the days when the EU only had 12 members, Portugal got all the business from the other EU countries. Since Ireland began the whole “Celtic Tiger” thing, Portugal has by a fairly wide margin been the poorest country in the EU. It was only 31 years ago this year that Portugal threw off the yoke of fascism and central planning, so it’s not unusual that they’d be behind the rest of free Europe. But unlike the Irish, the Portuguese had no plans for rapid economic growth or liberalization, and when the EU expanded, the Portuguese suddenly became rich, relatively. Businesses no longer locate in Portugal looking for cheap labor, because they can go to Slovakia instead—and for the most part, they do.
Portuguese pride has played a role here. Unwilling to take Ireland or Slovakia as examples of how to drum up business, the country has continued to poke along, its primary products remaining cork and fortified wines. Slovenia and Malta have already leapt ahead of Portugal, and the Czech Republic is knocking at the door.
The Czech Republic (or “Czechia” as the government wants to be known; they should have chosen “Czeska,” which sounds better; nobody uses either one anyway) used to be the poster child for Eastern Europe. Actually, so did Hungary. The poster’s been redrawn a number of times. Czechia is beset by chronically high unemployment and disastrous environmental problems. Though the economy is still purring along, it’s no longer doing as well as Slovenia’s, and though Slovakia and Estonia are still poorer, both have much healthier economies. Czechia still has some problems to overcome.
The final four countries in the first world will undoubtedly come as surprises to some.
At the top is Barbados, a tiny Caribbean island sticking out into the Atlantic and taunting the hurricanes. Statiscally, Barbados looks much like Czechia, albeit with a slightly higher infant mortality rate. The country still sells a good bit of sugar on the world market, but tourism, offshore banking, and services provide more to the economy than sugar. Barbados is the first country in the Caribbean to post a positive net migration rate—while some Bajans are still emigrating to the U.S. and elsewhere, more people are moving into Barbados from elsewhere than are leaving. This is a lagging indicator of a country’s success. Once you become somebody else’s land of milk and honey, you’ve pretty much arrived.
Following Barbados is the Bahamas. The Bahamas used to rank much higher, but about four years ago the CIA revised their estimate of the size of the Bahamian economy sharply downward. The economy has been growing consistently since then, but from a lower base. The Bahamas has the highest AIDS infection rate in the First World, which results in the country also having the lowest life expectancy and highest infant mortality rates as well. The economy is structurally sound, but work needs to be done socially.
Finally we have two brand new entrants to the First World, Hungary and Uruguay. Hungary has been dithering about at the top of the Transition club for several years, but couldn’t get their act together until recently, when the unemployment rate started to come down. Hungary preceded Czechia as the Eastern Europe poster child, but with full EU membership and healthy economic numbers the place should be on the rise.
Uruguay is the first South American country to make the First World. This is a surprise; I had expected Argentina to win the race, but Uruguay recovered almost immediately from the Brazilian meltdown, and in the last three years the economy has grown 10% annually. The Uruguayan literacy rate and life expectancy are the best in South America and on par with the First World average. Though the Uruguayan GDP per capita came in this year at the absolute floor for First World admission, with the growth rate of the economy they should not be there for long.

11 August 2005

The Annual Country Rankings! Part VII

Of course, there are places on Earth that are rich and reasonably pleasant places to live but can’t really be called First World. These are the Outliers. At present there are nine of them, and they can all be found after the jump.

The richest Outlier is Taiwan, which is at least as nice a place as Liechtenstein provided you like very tall buildings and humidity. It has a relatively stable democracy, although truly free elections only arrived in the last decade. It has a widely diversified modern economy and trades globally. But poor Taiwan, it’s not really a country. Or, is it?
The U.S. government does not have an answer. We don’t want to offend new best friend China lest they cut off the Wal-Mart supply chain and throw the American economy into complete disarray. Nearly every country in the world, and all the important ones, officially recognize the “one-China” policy, and proclaim that Taiwan should, at some point, reunify with China.
This is an absolutely ridiculous statement to make and I can’t possibly imagine anyone at all outside China actually believes it. Nonetheless, Taiwan has about 700 missiles pointed at it and could be wiped off the face of the earth in short order if they really pissed off their big angry neighbor, and without any real diplomatic recognition it must be argued that Taiwan is not stable or really free. So it’s an outlier.

Next down the list is Brunei, which is at least as nice as Greece, except Greek women look better than Bruneians, and again there’s that humidity factor (which may be why the Greeks are better looking). Brunei has made great strides in the last decade in improving literacy, life expectancy, and infant mortality rates, and is starting to look like a First World country in areas other than sheer wealth (though the median age is only 27, which would be the lowest in the First World). This is a very positive development for Bruneians and proves that, human nature be damned, the Hobbesian Leviathan can occasionally exist in the world.
But there is the matter of that Leviathan. His name is Sir Hassanal Bolkiah, he’s the Sultan of Brunei (one of two real sultans left in the world), and he has total control over every aspect of daily life in his little Sultanate.
Given the size of his country, I sort of think that Sultan Hassanal’s day must be a lot like playing a very large game of SimCity. He’s doing a pretty good job; Brunei has no foreign debt and the government runs a half-billion dollar surplus every year, while providing cradle-to-grave health care and free education through the university level, and subsidizing housing and rice (that would be like Uncle Sam giving you a free loaf of Wonder Bread and $100 towards your mortgage every week).
Still, great guy though he may be, the Sultan is a Leviathan, and I don’t allow such places into the First World. Brunei has a handful of other problems, too. The economy, though diversifying, is still too resource-dependent to be considered fully modern; 50% of GDP is based on oil and gas, and though new reserves of these wonderful products have recently been found that should keep Brunei in fat times for decades, that’s a shaky way to build an economy—especially when nearly two-thirds of your citizens are college graduates. Brunei has an excellent independent judiciary (though judges, of course, serve at the pleasure of the Sultan), and a separate Shari’a court system for family matters for Muslims (who make up two-thirds of the population). The Sultan has considered merging these two judicial systems; and any country with a judicial system based purely on religious law is not going to be in the First World as long as I’m making the definitions. We’ll see how that goes.

Next on the list is Israel, which is as nice as Greece but hotter and drier. Like Taiwan, Israel has a stable democracy, a free press, and a fully modern integrated economy. But numerous groups and countries in Israel’s immediate neighborhood have as their stated goal the ultimate destruction of the Israeli state. Given that the first world is a place where we don’t expect states to collapse or be destroyed or attacked by other states, it’s hard to justify locating Israel there.

South Korea (as comfortable as Slovenia but without so many sunny alpine vistas; also George Bush knows where it is) suffers from much the same problem as Israel and Taiwan; namely, an unpleasant and well-armed enemy bent on its destruction. Someday I suspect the Koreas will unite; but given the horrific state of the North Korean economy and populace, it will be a much harder merger than the German one. Until that time, South Korea remains an outlier.

Cyprus is the bottom country on the list of outliers, with an overall standard of living somewhere between that of the Czech Republic and Barbados. Cyprus is a bizarre little place; two-thirds of the island is run by the official Cypriot government and is populated by Greeks; one third is run by a pariah government recognized only by Turkey, and is populated only by Turks. This situation results from Cyprus’ status as the Korea of the Greek-Turkish Cold War. Additionally, two sizeable chunks of Cyprus are operated by the United Kingdom as overseas colonies; there is also a DMZ/Neutral Zone between the Greek and Turkish halves. Bear in mind the island of Cyprus is half the size of Connecticut; there’s a lot going on in a small space and everyone’s a little edgy.
The Greek half (which is the part world leaders and the UN are referring to when they say “Cyprus”) has recently joined the EU and has rather a nice standard of living, better than that of Greece itself. The Turkish half wasn’t even offered EU membership, since no EU country recognizes it; the standard of living there is worse than in Turkey itself. Combined together you get a place at the lower edge of first world status, though obviously because of the divide it’s hardly rational to call Cyprus first world. Which part would we be talking about?
Last year the UN put forth the latest in a series of reunification plans that would have brought the two halves of the island together. The Greek Cypriot government accepted the plan, though most Greek Cypriots thought it was too generous to the Turkish Cypriots. The Turkish Cypriot government rejected the plan, though most Turkish Cypriots supported it because unification was expected to improve living standards (and included EU membership, always a nice bonus). This is a very confused place.

The remaining outliers are the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain. These are the wealthy oil sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf. Only the UAE and Bahrain have made any effort whatsoever to diversify their economies away from total dependence on oil, and the results are decidedly mixed. At any rate more than two-thirds their GDPs come from oil, and as I mentioned above a resource-based economy such as these can’t be called modern, and a modern economy is a prerequisite for first world membership.
Of course, these states have other problems besides, among them the use of religion as the primary judicial basis; near universal gender segregation; the lack of any real political participation; and limited press freedom (Qatar being a notable exception).
Among this group, Bahrain is clearly the most progressive. Known in parts of the Muslim world as “The island that Allah cannot see,” Bahrain has developed a significant tourist business (most clients come from other Gulf states to get their drinking, gambling, and whoring done away from Allah’s watchful eyes), is creating an offshore banking sector, and is moving away from oil production and toward oil refining and shipping, a more stable source of foreign exchange. The country also now has a parliament, though the king can veto any of the parliament’s decrees if he doesn’t like them. Strides are being made, but these countries have a long way to go.

10 August 2005

The Annual Country Rankings! Part VI

Stable third-world democracies, like India, Botswana, Turkey, and Brazil, stand a chance of moving out of the third world and joining the Transitional States. And quite a happy club this is. 20 states strong, every new first world country must toil for a time in the land of Transition.
From a practical point of view, any country that has made it to transitional status is a good credit risk and an excellent place to send official development aid, should it be needed. Like the First World states, these are not places where one would expect to see a civil war, nor should these states be expect to attack other states or be attacked by them. Their economies are reasonably diverse and modern, and they should not be so fragile as to be badly damaged by natural disasters or to suffer total collapse from financial problems. Examples follow the jump.

A case in point is Malaysia, which has been a Transition Club member at least since 1998. Back in those heady days before the Asian Financial Crisis, Indonesia was right there alongside Malaysia with roughly equivalent per capita GDP and similar if slightly lower quality of life indicators. But then came said crisis, which in fact began in Malaysia. The Malaysian economy slipped substantially, but on a fundamental level, Malaysia’s economy was able to hold together. Though the local currency had been badly oversold and the banks were on the verge of collapse, export manufacturing and consumer demand did not dry up. Malaysians were confident this was just a temporary problem; Malaysia recovered quickly.
Indonesia did not, and remains mired in the third world. Though Indonesia had significant problems with government control of numerous aspects of the economy (and the corruption that goes along with that), one of the main problems the country had was that income was so unevenly distributed that in the aftermath of the financial meltdown, the rest of the archipelago outside Java and Bali could not sustain the level of consumer demand needed to keep local manufacturers working during the export slowdown. Many Indonesian manufacturers went out of business, and few if any have come back on line.
The goal, then, with my screening process for the Transitional States, is to keep the Malaysias in and the Indonesias out. This is not always easy. Brazil has been bouncing around on the cusp of Transitional status for years now, but the sympathy recession Brazil suffered during the Asian crisis in the 1990s showed some of Brazil’s weaknesses. Income inequality is worse in Brazil than in most other South American countries, and as a result Brazil’s internal demand for products does not easily recover from financial shocks. Maybe they deserve to be in the club, maybe not. For now, they’re on the outside looking in.

Last year, in the hopes of keeping any potential Indonesias out of the club, I raised the required score for admission. In so doing I kicked out a number of questionable states (Brazil included), but also kicked out Romania and Thailand, which I thought looked strong enough to remain in the club. This year they both put together scores high enough for entry, so I’m happy to welcome them back. Their readmission prevented the club from getting any smaller, as two members finally attained the lofty status of First World.
Romania joins Bulgaria, both of which should enter the EU in 2007 or 2008. EU accession has been important for a number of other transitional and first world states, so I expect Romania and Bulgaria to move up swiftly in the years ahead.
Thailand joins Malaysia as the only Asian transitional states. However, they’ve helped bring along the tiny Pacific nation of Palau, which resides in the transitional area largely as a result of tourism receipts from rich Asians. The more rich Asians there are in places like Malaysia and Thailand, the better off Palau will be.

Eastern Europe is heavily represented here. At the top of the list are Slovakia, Estonia, and Lithuania, fast growing new EU members. Slovakia has made a name for itself in the last few years as the best country in eastern Europe in which to do business, and the country’s economy has grown by 5-7% every year this decade. George Bush may not know where Slovakia is, but plenty of other people do.
Poland is the next European country on the list. It has moved forward in fits and starts, sometimes seemingly near the cusp of first world membership, at other times back in the middle of the pack. Poland is the largest of the new EU members by a fairly wide margin, almost the size of Spain, but the economy does not yet reflect the size of the population. Poles were the butt of the anti-Constitution campaign’s jokes during the French referendum earlier this year, proof that the country has a ways to go to be accepted by its western neighbors.
Croatia and Latvia follow Poland on the list; Croatia is the only non-EU member without a target accession date on this list. All other non-EU member states in Europe remain in the third world, with the sole exception of Russia, which isn’t so much European as it is just plain Russian. While the Croats have made some gains without the EU, it is evident that the carrot of EU membership is one of the most effective ways to get a country to shape up yet seen and has been the driving force behind much of Croatia's economic reform. The carrot must continue to be extended. The Croats certainly hope it will be.
Russia is perhaps the most questionable country on the list. Is it really democratic? It certainly isn’t very libertarian. Corruption is rampant, and the government plays far too large a role in the economy. Their score, 781, is impressive, and while life expectancy is low the other quality of life indicators are all quite high. The economy has rebounded from the 1998 default and is now larger than it has been at any time since the Soviet Union collapsed. Some things are going well. But at present, even if the score reaches the first world threshold, Russia looks more like a potential Outlier than a real member of the First World.

A number of small island states are in the transition club. The highest ranking of these is Mauritius, a little island you’ve never heard of in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar. Once a leading sugar producer, the Mauritian economy now includes large tourism, financial, and high-tech sectors, and the country recently concluded a free trade pact with India.
In the Caribbean, the ampersand countries are all in the club. Trinidad & Tobago is at the top, with tourism, mining, and petroleum refining important in the economy. Antigua & Barbuda remains the only Caribbean country who’s government has a detailed high-tech industry plan; while tourism will always be important, the country hopes the island of Antigua may some day be referred to as Silicon Island. Saint Kitts & Nevis has a solid financial industry and still remains one of the Caribbean’s largest sugar producers, on a per-capita basis (though Kittitian rum has yet to make a dent in the world market). A popular wide-scale secession movement on the island of Nevis may put a damper on economic growth on both islands in the near future.

The four remaining Transitional countries are all in Latin America. At the top is Argentina, with Chile not far behind. These two countries were both on the cusp of First World membership before Brazil’s economy went froot loops in 1998 and 1999 and took the rest of South America down with it. Chile and Argentina were particularly hard hit and have not recovered fully; many jobs have been created, macroeconomic policy has been revised to encourage greater stability, but incomes haven’t returned to late 1990s levels. Still, barring a global economic downturn these countries should be in the First World by the end of the decade.
Farther down the list is Costa Rica, the only Central American transitional country and a CAFTA member state. Costa Rica, unlike its neighbors, has seen 150 years of stable democratic government. Unfortunately, this stability was guaranteed in part by a large social welfare system, the bill for which is now coming due. Though Costa Rica has done much to diversify the economy in recent years and boasts a wider array of industries than all its neighbors combined, the government’s current internal debt is dangerously high and there is little political will to eliminate the annual deficit.
Finally we have Mexico, which for the first time this year is estimated to have a trillion-dollar economy, one of only a dozen worldwide. Mexico’s quality of life score is basically flat over the last five years, because although the economy is growing quite a bit faster than the population, not much of that money is making its way into the hands of Mexicans. NAFTA was a tremendous boon to the Mexican economy, but much of the money made by foreign investors there is not staying in Mexico. This trend has to be reversed for Mexico to see any real gains; still, it’s nice to know our next-door neighbor isn’t as dreadful a place as we all fear.

09 August 2005

The Annual Country Rankings! Part V

Today I’ll cover the other three regional groupings in the third world, Europe, Latin America, and the Small Island States. And I’ll do so after the jump.

Europe has nine third world countries, all of them previously communist. At the top of the list, remarkable after having been the poorest country on the continent only six years ago, is Macedonia. Despite have a 40% unemployment rate (highest on the continent), Macedonia has a remarkably large GDP and the other indicators are all good. The simmering ethnic tensions in the country have largely simmered down, at least for now, so the prospects are good for Macedonia to move out of the third world soon.
At the bottom of the pile is Moldova, Europe’s poorest country. The Russian government actively supports a secession movement in the northeast. The present government consists entirely of former communists, and aside from a few wineries and large state-run wheat farms, the economy consists mainly of buying cheap goods in Ukraine and re-exporting them at higher prices to other countries in Europe. Years ago there was talk that Moldova might merge with Romania, but Romania is moving ahead with EU membership and a recovering economy, and I don’t imagine they’d want Moldova dragging them down.
In between are a variety of other places. Serbia & Montenegro is near the bottom, Ukraine is near the top, and the rest are mashed in between. Nearly all these countries have literacy rates in the high 90s, life expectancies near or over 70, and infant mortality rates of 20 or below. Aside from Armenia and Belarus all are in the process of developing democratic governments, and all are eager to move forward, join the EU, and get on with being a part of the richest continent around—though they may never get that chance.
The other countries are Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, Armenia, and Georgia. Georgia, incidentally, is called “Sak’art’velo” in the Georgian language, and though no one could pronounce it correctly I still think it would be easier on us American types to start calling the country by its proper name. They make good wines there, so the topic may come up more in the future.

Latin America—which is to say, the rest of the hemisphere south of the United States—has 18 countries in the third world, which is a majority of the countries in the hemisphere. Brazil, Panama, and Belize all have democratic governance, some semblance of individual freedom, and reasonably diverse economies, and all score above 600; these will probably escape the third world fairly soon. Colombia and Venezuela also score above 600 but suffer from armed insurrection and from Hugo Chavez, respectively. Chavez thinks he is a cross between Castro and Bolivar for the 21st Century, and if he holds on to power for another four years he will bankrupt what was once a very promising country. He’s no Robert Mugabe, but I’m told the two are good friends.
At the bottom of the list, scoring in the 300s, are Bolivia, Honduras, and Nicaragua. No surprise here. Bolivia can’t keep a government in power for more than a year at a stretch; Honduras still hasn’t really recovered from Hurricane Mitch, and Nicaragua, though moderately peaceful for the past 12 years, has failed utterly to diversify the economy away from bananas.
That said, Honduras and Nicaragua, along with the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and El Salvador, are part of the recently-passed CAFTA agreement, which may bode well for their future. Of course, to see any benefit from the trade agreement Nicaragua will need to come up with something to trade.
Other American countries in the third world include Peru, Paraguay, Jamaica, Suriname, Ecuador, Guyana, and Cuba. The sole failed state in the western hemisphere is Haiti, which has a score less than half that of Nicaragua.

The last “regional” grouping are the Small Island States, which are not all in a single region but have much more in common with one another than with other countries that might be in their region.
At the top of the list are Samoa, Fiji, and Dominica, all just a few points away from one another. Fiji was once on the verge of escaping the third world altogether, until a coup attempt and ethnic violence brought the economy to a virtual standstill and nearly eliminated tourism for several months. Samoa and Dominica, on the other hand, are two of the third world’s most successful pluggers, steadily and consistently raising their quality of life year by year. Their scores are not spectacular, but if trends continue they’ll be on their way to the land of Transition before too long.
At the bottom of the list is the Solomon Islands. This country had been doing rather well until an ill-advised secession attempt by one of the islands led to nationwide ethnic strife and stopped the economy dead. The Solomons slipped into the failed states and at one point scored as low as 180 points; the country has since recovered and should continue to do so. As one of the most resource-rich of all small island states, the Solomon Islands should be able to recover their lost economic prowess and continue growing.
Economic growth, however, can be elusive for many small island states. Few of them have any significant resources aside from their status as tropical paradises, and while some of them have made great gains with tourism and offshore banking, many others remain too tiny or remote to develop.
Philosophically, however, development in the small islands is a different matter than it is in, for example, Africa. People living in third world and failed states in Africa are living unpleasant lives; disease is rampant and mortality rates are very high, even from diseases we in the developed world think of as insignificant, such as diarrhea (the leading cause of infant death in many countries). Civil war, sex slavery, human trafficking, famine, lack of potable water or reasonable shelter; these are what people in most poor countries around the world are dealing with on a daily basis. It’s in the interest of humanity to raise these peoples’ living standards.
But life in the poor island countries tends to be a little different. Few of the small island states suffer from significant disease rates, although schistosomiasis is not uncommon (this is a particularly nasty worm-related disease you don’t want to know about). Birth rates tend not to be very high on small islands, since lack of space is an everyday concern. Civil war is, at least in the smaller countries (Fiji and Solomon Islands are the largest small island states), all but unheard of; sex slavery and human trafficking are essentially nonexistent. The people of the islands—especially the Pacific islands—have been living on islands for eons and, as I suppose Jared Diamond would explain, know how to avoid famine in their native environments. The people on many small islands are living as they have lived for hundreds of years. The country of Tuvalu, for example, is selling its .tv domain name to television producers around the world, but Tuvalu does not have any local television stations, and almost no televisions at all outside the government. Are the Tuvaluans missing anything? Hard to say. They are poor, yes. But they certainly aren’t as miserable as the Ethiopians.
Anyway, among the small island states in the third world, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Tonga, Niue, Nauru, the Cook Islands, Fiji, and Samoa are sprinkled around the Pacific. The Maldives are in the Indian Ocean, and the Seychelles are off the east coast of Africa. Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are in the Caribbean.
The rest of Pacific island countries are much smaller than those previously discussed. Nauru consists of a single island. Once it was the richest in the Pacific, its 12,000 residents living fat off of proceeds from phosphate mining. The government invested its surplus in a development account, for when the phosphate ran out, which it did in 2003. The government then proceeded to spend almost the entire surplus in 2004. Nauru’s environment has been destroyed by phosphate mining, and its small size, remoteness and lack of facilities make developing a tourist trade difficult if not impossible. What the Nauruans will do in the future is hard to know. Most will probably emigrate to Australia and New Zealand in the coming years.
Niue is another interesting case, also a single island, but with no phosphates at all to get rich from and only 2000 people. The Niueans today live much as the Niueans did 400 years ago when the island was first sited by European explorers, albeit with the trappings of modernity. More than twice the population of the island live abroad, mostly in New Zealand, and the money they send home accounts for a significant portion of the Niuean economy. Nauru will probably look much like Niue ten years from now (albeit with a strip-mined phosphate rock center that bakes in the midday sun at temperatures up to 100 degrees).
The Maldives and Seychelles have profited from tourism, being much closer to people who like to be tourists. The Seychelles are popular with Europeans, especially the British; the Maldives draw tourists from throughout the Muslim world. Tourism has meant money for these countries, though it is new money and government services have not yet caught up with the need for education and health care.
The Caribbean countries are all trying to shake off the old bananas-and-sugar economies; the four still here in the third world are the ones who’ve had the least success. St. Vincent has long been the poorest Caribbean country; much of its land area is the string of islets known as the Grenadines, so the country is almost more like the archipelagic Pacific countries than its neighbors. St. Lucia suffers from its location astride the meaty part of the Caribbean hurricane belt, but next-door Barbados is a first-world country despite that handicap. The government hopes a new cruise-ship terminal and high-dollar accommodations will help bring the country’s quality of life up. Dominica suffers from an almost total lack of beaches, one of the few islands (and the only independent one) in the Caribbean to suffer so. Nonetheless, the government recently hit upon the idea of selling the country as an eco/adventure tourism destination. The entire middle part of the island is a virtually uninhabited (and uninhabitable) national park, and as American tourists start traveling more in the future Dominica should do well. Grenada, unfortunately, has taken a rather serious step backwards in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan. Hurricane Emily struck the country earlier this year, though did little additional damage. Recovery efforts continue, but more than half the country’s buildings still lack water, and many are still without power, not to mention solid roofs. The Paris Club’s most recent round of debt forgiveness managed to skip over Grenada, evidently because it is so small as to be invisible, and the country’s main sources of foreign exchange, the spice plantations, were badly damaged and won’t recover for several years if ever. Rapid reconstruction of the limited tourist infrastructure, along with new construction in that area, are Grenada’s best hope for macroeconomic stability in the future—at least until the country’s lenders remove their blinders and forgive Grenada’s debt.

Amazing Discovery: NASA still competent!

Those of us who are true believers in space exploration knew it all along, of course. It was disappointing that the weather today was too lousy in Florida for a landing here (with consequent sonic booms over the Tampa Bay area), but it was thrilling to see the old ship come in for a safe landing. Congratulations to all involved, including all of us taxpayers. It's great to see the shuttles flying again (even if only temporarily).

08 August 2005

The Annual Country Rankings! Part IV

As it is the largest grouping of countries, I break the third world down into six regional subgroups. Today we’ll discuss Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

There are seven African third world states; aside from Mauritius, all other African states are considered failing. This is rather depressing. Even among the third world African states, things are not particularly sunny.
Ghana is just coming off spillover problems from the civil wars that have affected almost every country bordering it (the lone exception being dreadfully poor Burkina Faso, who’s people don’t have enough money to fight a civil war), and though it was once the shining light of West Africa it’s light has dimmed somewhat; it scores just 268 points, barely qualifying for the third world. The country’s government is stable, reasonably democratic and only moderately corrupt, and personal liberties are wide-ranging for Africa. However, literacy, life expectancy, and infant mortality are all significantly worse than the third world average. GDP growth is just barely keeping ahead of population growth (though that number has come down a great deal in the last few years). Surrounded by strife and poverty (and containing a fair bit of those itself), Ghana can either become an island of growth and stability or slip back to join its failing neighbors. Ghana is, thus, an example of a country that would very definitely deserve targeted official development aid, but we tend to send most of that aid to other countries in the region that are not equipped to make use of it.
Equatorial Guinea is not much better off than Ghana (scoring 294), but differs from Ghana in that it has a horribly repressive and corrupt despot at the head of its government and virtually no personal freedoms at all. The country stays afloat on the basis of its significant oil and natural gas wealth, but that money does not trickle down to the average Equatoguinean in the street. Official development aid that goes to EG tends to be pocketed by the government.
The remaining African third world states are Gabon, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa, all of which are significantly richer than the other two. Gabon survives on oil wealth and appears rich only because it has such a small population; desperately needed government and economic reforms are probably decades away, after the passing of the country’s only president to date, Omar Bongo.
The other countries are part of the southern African cone of development, which used to include Zimbabwe until Robert Mugabe went insane and destroyed the place. Swaziland is firmly in the third world, but South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia are all rich, stable, democratic, and have good literacy rates and growing economies. However, these are among the countries worst hit by AIDS; Swaziland this year took from Botswana the dubious title of Country With The Highest Rate Of AIDS Infection; all but South Africa have rates over 30% (SA is slightly lower). The high rate of AIDS infection screws up most other population numbers: the median age in these countries is in the teens (which is common among failed states), and life expectancy numbers range from a high of 43.9 in Namibia to a low of 33.9 in Botswana.
It is these low numbers that keep these countries in the third world, but the numbers aren’t fully accurate. Residents of southern Africa who avoid the AIDS plague—and that’s about 2/3 of them—live well into their 60s and 70s. But many of those born with the disease—almost a fifth of live births in these countries—don’t reach adulthood, and those who do are nearly always orphaned by that time and cannot afford the drugs that will keep them alive much longer. Without question, AIDS is the single biggest problem in southern Africa, and in numerous other third world and failing states; no amount of development aid will correct this problem unless it is specifically targeted to AIDS prevention, but it rarely is.

Asia has 12 third world countries. As I mentioned yesterday, they run the gamut. The wealthiest by a wide margin is Kazakhstan, which has a vast territory, small population, and huge amount of natural gas. Whether the government will use that resource for good or ill is quite up in the air.
Next on the list in China, and below China are a number of countries that are several years away from scoring high enough to escape to third world, if any of them could do so even with the right score. Asia is not a continent with notably good government. The Phillippines have a democracy of sorts, but stability is not a concept frequently associated therewith. Sri Lanka has a strong democracy, but a seemingly intractable civil war. Papua New Guinea just concluded a civil war, but with a score of only 267 and virtually no GDP growth it’s hard to see what might spark the place to develop. Kyrgyzstan has recently overthrown their post-Soviet president/despot, but whether he’s merely to be replaced with another one or not remains to be seen.
In fact, only India meets the non-statistical requirements to escape the third world, and with a score of 305 (up from 255 five years ago), a rapidly expanding population, and one of the least even income distributions in Asia, India has a long way to go.
Other third world Asian countries of less distinction include Turkmenistan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Mongolia, and Uzbekistan. None of these are very happy places to live.

The Middle East has 13 countries in the third world. Two, Oman and Saudi Arabia, score high enough to escape the third world but… well, these are Saudi Arabia and Oman we’re talking about. Not exactly bastions of libertarianism. Of the oil sheikdoms of the Middle East, however, Oman is a special case; the Emir’s program of “Omanization” has reduced the number of third country workers to a very low level, guaranteeing most young Omanis a job and giving the place the feeling of a unique and special country. The other Gulf states are like the various suburbs of California: they all look about the same, and dark-skinned non-citizens do all the real work. Oman is different.
Aside from oil-rich Arabian states, there are oil-rich North African states. Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco all live in the third world, with Egypt and Morocco at the bottom and Tunisia at the top. Tunisia has a semblance of democratic government, which is a nice feature, and the women aren’t covered in tablecloths all the time unless they want to be. The president of the country is not a good man, but he has succeeded in getting Tunisia favored status with the EU, lowering trade barriers, and he has also brought industries to Tunisia other than oil drilling and refining. Tunisia scores a 596; a few years of development under the EU trade regime and a multi-party election, and Tunisia will escape the third world.
Turkey might also escape some year soon, especially if the EU doesn’t refuse to open accession talks with the Turkish government later this year as numerous European politicians/idiots have suggested. Since nearly every stab at liberalization the Turks have made in the past decade has been done solely as part of the goal of EU membership, shutting that door would likely cause the country to slide backward. Right now the Europeans are afraid Turkey’s 69 million Muslims might all suddenly flood their cities to take jobs as short-order cooks and subway token-takers; if they close the door on Turkey, though, they’ll probably find a lot of those 69 million Muslims blowing themselves up in the short order diners and subways in another ten years.
Aside from Jordan and Lebanon, which have questionable but semi-democratic governments and some limited personal freedoms, the rest of the Middle East isn’t getting out of the third world any time soon. This includes Iran, Azerbaijan, and Syria, the three other states in this group.

07 August 2005

A History of Post-Colonial Lusophone Africa

Yesterday I finished reading A History of Post-Colonial Lusophone Africa, a book that was as informative as it was entertaining to watch people's expressions when they saw its title.

Yes, I chose to read this because I wanted to, not because I had some pressing reason to do so. Africa is a mess. The five former Portuguese (which is what Lusophone means, don't ask me why) colonies in Africa are particularly messy. Here is a book that purports to frame their particular messiness in terms of the colonial legacy and the post-colonial mistakes of their leaders. Lusophone African history is a microcosm of overall African history, and there just aren't many (any?) good African histories. Plus, having been rather smitten with Portugal on my sole trip to that country, I've become keenly interested in Portugal and its legacy.

The rest of the review is after the jump.

The book is divided into two sections and written by a team of six. The first section is written by Patrick Chabal, who has written a number of books on Angola. Angola thus figures fairly prominently in this section, which is a general overview of the history of the Portuguese colonies as a group--what they faced in common, what separated them, and why some succeeded while others failed. Of course, in a very real sense all of them have failed, so this degenerated into a discussion of why they each failed in different ways and at different speeds. Chabal is not a terribly exciting writer, but one needn't know very much about these countries or their history to understand what he's written.

The second section includes pieces on each of the five countries individually, each written by specialists on those countries (and edited by Mr. Chabal). The chapters on Angola and Mozambique--by far the most important and interesting of the five colonies--include much information already discussed in the earlier section, but both contain plenty of new information and are for the most part fairly easy to read, particularly the section on Mozambique.

By far the worst part of the book is the chapter on Guinea-Bissau. This is a shame since I've always felt that if I could become a third-world dictator, Guinea-Bissau is the country I should like to rule. The author, Joshua Forrest, is clearly of this group the one most tainted by academe; his writing is particularly illucid and much that might have been informative and interesting is buried under a layer of jargon. Additionally, the chapter's layout fails to use any even remotely chronological order, which makes it difficult to follow.

The two final chapters are somewhat shorter, being about particularly small and unimportant places (Cape Verde and Sao Tome e Principe). Both chapters are chock full of information you never knew existed about countries you may not have known existed. They are also among the best written parts of the book; I suppose specializing in a place like Sao Tome e Principe presents you with few enough opportunities to publish that you make sure what you do publish is very good.

Sadly, AHOPCLA was published in early 2002, and thus misses out on several frightfully important developments, notably the 2004 coup d'etat in Guinea-Bissau that brought former prime minister Kumba Yalla into the presidency, and the death lat er in 2002 of Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi; Savimbi's death finally put an end to near 30 straight years of civil war.

Overall, however, there is no better book on the subject. There is essentially no other book on the subject, either. Should you ever have a yen to know more about obscure and destitute places, this is all the information you'd ever want to have.

A History of Post-Colonial Lusophone Africa

Yesterday I finished reading A History of Post-Colonial Lusophone Africa, a book that was as informative as it was entertaining to watch people's expressions when they saw its title.

Yes, I chose to read this because I wanted to, not because I had some pressing reason to do so. Africa is a mess. The five former Portuguese (which is what Lusophone means, don't ask me why) colonies in Africa are particularly messy. Here is a book that purports to frame their particular messiness in terms of the colonial legacy and the post-colonial mistakes of their leaders. Lusophone African history is a microcosm of overall African history, and there just aren't many (any?) good African histories. Plus, having been rather smitten with Portugal on my sole trip to that country, I've become keenly interested in Portugal and its legacy.

The rest of the review is after the jump.

The book is divided into two sections and written by a team of six. The first section is written by Patrick Chabal, who has written a number of books on Angola. Angola thus figures fairly prominently in this section, which is a general overview of the history of the Portuguese colonies as a group--what they faced in common, what separated them, and why some succeeded while others failed. Of course, in a very real sense all of them have failed, so this degenerated into a discussion of why they each failed in different ways and at different speeds. Chabal is not a terribly exciting writer, but one needn't know very much about these countries or their history to understand what he's written.

The second section includes pieces on each of the five countries individually, each written by specialists on those countries (and edited by Mr. Chabal). The chapters on Angola and Mozambique--by far the most important and interesting of the five colonies--include much information already discussed in the earlier section, but both contain plenty of new information and are for the most part fairly easy to read, particularly the section on Mozambique.

By far the worst part of the book is the chapter on Guinea-Bissau. This is a shame since I've always felt that if I could become a third-world dictator, Guinea-Bissau is the country I should like to rule. The author, Joshua Forrest, is clearly of this group the one most tainted by academe; his writing is particularly illucid and much that might have been informative and interesting is buried under a layer of jargon. Additionally, the chapter's layout fails to use any even remotely chronological order, which makes it difficult to follow.

The two final chapters are somewhat shorter, being about particularly small and unimportant places (Cape Verde and Sao Tome e Principe). Both chapters are chock full of information you never knew existed about countries you may not have known existed. They are also among the best written parts of the book; I suppose specializing in a place like Sao Tome e Principe presents you with few enough opportunities to publish that you make sure what you do publish is very good.

Sadly, AHOPCLA was published in early 2002, and thus misses out on several frightfully important developments, notably the 2004 coup d'etat in Guinea-Bissau that brought former prime minister Kumba Yalla into the presidency, and the death lat er in 2002 of Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi; Savimbi's death finally put an end to near 30 straight years of civil war.

Overall, however, there is no better book on the subject. There is essentially no other book on the subject, either. Should you ever have a yen to know more about obscure and destitute places, this is all the information you'd ever want to have.